How Dearborn’s Fairlane Mall is reimagining itself for a new era

After the 2008 recession, many malls and major anchor stores in the United States went out of business. Property managers have been challenged to reimagine spaces where large, enclosed malls once dominated the shopping landscape, but are now competing with online shopping and the downfall and absence of major anchor stores.

Not all have made it in metro Detroit. Northland Mall in Southfield closed in 2015, and the City of Southfield has announced plans to turn the space into a mixed-use redevelopment site with housing, research, and development, medical offices, retail, entertainment, and dining. Eastland Mall in Harper Woods recently sold to a developer that specializes in revitalizing aging retail and mall spaces after most of its anchor stores closed.

But Dearborn’s Fairlane Mall has remained standing.

Much of the mall’s endurance has been the result of an intentional effort to adapt to the changing needs of consumers, according to Nichole Ninowski, marketing manager for Fairlane Mall.

“Starwood Retail (Fairlane's property manager) is reinvesting in our centers and our communities by adding new uses and amenities, and reconfiguring them to better align with today’s ‘live, work, play’ lifestyle for mixed-use properties,” says Ninowski. “We’re redeveloping alternate uses for space to fit the way we live our lives.”
Nichole Ninowski. Photo by David Lewinski.
Embracing tech

That’s required a new philosophy for Fairlane Mall. At one point, Fairlane was home to more than 220 retailers, including five major department stores, dining options, and even an ice rink. Today, Fairlane claims just over 100 stores and restaurants.

But the mall also possesses some unique facets that and cater to consumers’ evolving technology needs. Because people shop online and do research on the items they are looking to buy more and more these days, Fairlane is working to ensure that consumers are connected to as many resources as they can be.

“Customers’ journeys start on the screen, and smart retailers are combining online and physical experiences, so the purchase journey is seamless between screen and store,” says Ninowski.

“Technology helps everyone shop smarter,” says Ninowski. “So we offer free Wi-Fi; it’s important to be connected when shopping.”

In the store, shoppers are able to use their smartphones for sales and deals and even pricing.

“Apps, texts, and emails make it easier for our 100 stores to share deals and sales with customers,” says Ninowski.

Ninowski says that shoppers come into the mall knowing what they want, having looked it up online. After that, she says customers are looking for the ‘trust but verify’ purchase—they are pretty sure they know what they want to buy, but they need to see it in person and use their senses to confirm that purchase.

One of the interactive programs the mall is incorporating is called Live 360.

“‘Live 360’ is an interactive community-led program designed for the community, by the community, featuring demonstrations, workshops and more to allow the community to actively engage around their interests,” says Ninowski. “Live 360 is hosted by Fairlane Town Center, but built by the community with free classes, activations, and fun amenities.”

Fairlane Mall in Dearborn. Photo by David Lewinski.
A new kind of ‘anchor’

The anchor stores of Fairlane have dwindled from five to two—JCPenney and Macy’s/ Sears closed at the end of this summer. But the newest anchor cementing the stability of the future of the mall is a surprising one: Ford Motor Company.

Ford’s Research and Development team moved into space formerly occupied by the Lord & Taylor department store and other retailers in January of 2017. The move adds a new customer base of technology professionals who have access to the mall and also gives the mall a long-term occupant.

In a press release last year, Chairman and CEO of Ford Land, Dave Dubensky said, “The proximity and design of Fairlane Mall, along with its on-site amenities, support our transformation in offering multiple conveniences for our employees. It is a win-win for us and the community.”

Fairlane Mall in Dearborn. Photo by David Lewinski.

The Ford workers will work out of the space at the mall, dubbed the Town Center Office, for ten years while several office spaces on Ford properties are renovated.

These changes and innovative strategies, along with a strong economy and consumer confidence, have boosted sales in many malls, including Fairlane.

“The National Retail Federation (NRF) expects holiday retail sales in November and December to increase between 4.3 percent and 4.8 percent over 2017 for a total of $717.45 billion to $720.89 billion,” says Ninowski.

She says the key to this has been shopping early. Accounting and business auditing giant Deloitte conducted a 2018 holiday survey which found that 60 percent of holiday shopping is done prior to Thanksgiving and the larger budgets are spent the earlier shopping begins.

Dearborn resident Lisa Ballard started her shopping early because Fairlane Mall is a convenience she does not take for granted.

“It is convenient, clean, great for walking, and it’s my go-to if I need a nice gift,” she says.

To see the most up-to-date information on Santa, shopping, dining and holiday experiences, family-friendly events, as well as this season’s community giving programs, visit https://fairlaneholiday.mediaelc.com/.

Read more articles by Elizabeth Clark.

Elizabeth Clark is a Dearborn-based freelance writer.
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